“Don’t die with your best song still unsung.” ~Anonymous
[While kindness has been and will remain one of the most important lessons of my life—and one I continue to learn daily—lately, I’ve been thinking about other lessons life has taught me. And I’ve become increasingly aware of the lessons that no longer serve and need to be “unlearned.” Like many writers who say they write to find out what they think, writing is how I make sense of my world. Periodically, I plan to explore some of my life lessons here. I invite you to share some of your own.]
I’m finally learning to use and enjoy the things I love—without worrying about whether I might break them, wear them out, or use them up. Growing up, I somehow ingested a notion that special things were to be saved for special occasions:
“We only use those dishes when we have company.”
“Those are your good shoes. You can’t wear them for everyday.”
For years—even long after I was out on my own—I didn’t wear the favorite sweater to go grocery shopping or just around the house. I didn’t serve dinner for only the two of us on the pretty china with the blue flowers, or pour water, lemonade, or wine into the delicate crystal glasses. I refrained from writing in the exquisite hand-sewn journal a dear friend gave me because my scribblings were just too mundane for such a gorgeous book.
But somewhere along the way—finally—it occurred to me that the sweater wasn’t made to spend its life in a drawer, the china and crystal would give us pleasure and maybe even psychologically elevate the quality of my mediocre cooking. And if I didn’t think my writing or my thoughts were worthy of a lovely journal (and a good pen to write with), then what kind of timid, phony writer am I? If I fill it up with my thoughts—however jumbled or humdrum—I can get another. I’m worth it.
I recall a story that circulated on social media several years ago about a woman who helps her brother-in-law go through his wife’s possessions after the wife’s sudden death. They come across a beautiful and delicate lace slip, wrapped in tissue paper and still bearing the price-tag. The husband recounts how his wife bought it years before, but never wore it, always saying she was saving it for a special occasion. As he tosses it next to the dress they’ve decided to bury her in, he says bitterly, “I guess this is her special occasion.”
Some people don’t use the “good stuff” because they want to keep it unsullied to bequeath to their kids or grand-kids. Well, guess what? It’s a safe bet that the kids don’t want it and also don’t want the burden of disposing of it after mom and dad die, or when they can no longer live safely in their home. They’d be much happier seeing their parents enjoy these items while they’re living . . . and seeing that might even create memories that confer lasting sentimental value on the old relics.
In her 1989 New York Times essay, “Write Till You Drop,” Annie Dillard has another take on this whole issue of saving things. She approaches it from a writer’s perspective:
“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
What are you saving for just the right occasion, the right story, the right day? What if that day doesn’t come, or if when it does, you find only ashes?
Me? I have a hundred-year-old, hand-painted china tea-set. The delicate cups and saucers with their beautifully detailed flowers give me enormous joy just to look at them. Perhaps it’s time for a tea party….
“Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality.” ~Dalai Lama